Donna Meredith Interviews Chuck Kinder

DM: Do you see yourself as a James Dean type character? 

Donna Meredith

CK: Yes. Sort of a rebel seeking a cause, I suppose. I guess you could say my books are part of this search. All art is a search when you consider it. I am reminded of T. S. Elliott – Something on the order of “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” I guess it’s pretty to think so.

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DM: You use movies in all your books, and, as your wife comments in Last Mountain Dancer, you live life as if you were writing the novel scene while living the moment, and Holly thinks you were living your life like some sort of movie you were making up in your mind as you went along.

CK: My imagination and memory seem to be basically cinematic in nature. It goes without saying that some movies resonate more than others. I was influenced by Sergei Eisenstein, the Russian film director and theorist, who saw his film as a montage. The power of the montage is image driven. Per Pound: images are intellectual and emotional complexities in a moment in time. My work is cinematic, image driven, only I use language and Eisenstein used cinema.

DM: Snakehunter has three distinct narrative threads: Speer’s voice as a child, Speer’s voice as a young adult, and a third nonfiction list that possibly hints at themes. The last is an unusual technique. Is there a particular name for it? Were you influenced to try this technique by other authors?

CK: Your description of the narrative threads using three voices is absolutely correct. The third voice is something I would call the uber voice. It’s part omniscient, part author, but clearly above the narrative. As I was developing this style, I credit some of my classmates at Stanford for introducing me to other writers working in a similar vein. Those that immediately come to mind include William Gass’s In the Heart of the Heart of the Country and Jerzey Kozinski’s Steps in particular and of course The Painted Bird.  I would consider them as primary influences for that uber voice which seemed to serve me well in this piece, providing a dispassionate, omniscient point of view which allowed me to stand outside and above the narrative when I needed that distance.

DM: Who else influenced your work?

Chuck Kinder

CK: My influences for writing Snakehunter date back well before those Stanford years. As I consider it, my earliest major writing influence had to be Russell McDonald who taught the first writing classes offered at WVU. He introduced me to the work of Reynolds Price, in particular, A Long and Happy Life and A Generous Man. Upon his suggestion I also read James Agee’s A Death in the Family and The Morning Watch. About this same time I began to read Faulkner, who influenced me mightily, especially his use of voice in the Cassie scenes and sections from The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. All of this early reading material had a significant impact on my writing. In fact it was in McDonald’s class that I wrote several stories which gradually evolved into a longer narrative I called Memorial Day, and that became my creative writing thesis. That piece has the distinction of being the first creative writing thesis in the English Department history. I used part of Memorial Day in my application to Stanford University where I was admitted as an Edith Merrilees Fellow. While there I rewrote Memorial Day, which became Snakehunter, my first novel, which was subsequently published by Knopf in 1972.

DM: I love the character Catherine (in Snakehunter), the most lovable adult because she feels empathy for others Was there someone like her in your life: a brilliant, witty, but also flawed mentor?

CK: I love Catherine as well. She is a composite character based loosely on my second cousin, Garnet Dangerfield, and also on her aunt and my paternal grandmother, Daisy Dangerfield. The character Aunt Erika also drew upon some of my grandmother’s features. It should be evident that my grandmother and I shared a special relationship. I was close to her and she in turn doted on me right up until her death in the early 1980s.

DM: You explore cruelty in Snakehunter through many incidents (Hercules, gym class and coach, Speer himself in the hospital and coldness toward Mary, and the horrible kitten deaths). Most are acts of cruelty (commission), though Speer witnesses a rape and does nothing to prevent it, a sin of omission. In many instances, you seem to suggest meanness begets meanness, the bullied becomes bully. Yet I wondered if you were suggesting humans are innately cruel. Could you explain your intentions on this theme?

CK: I think there is cruelty in human nature, but I also believe we possess compassion and empathy, perhaps different sides of the same coin.

DM: The dual motifs of snake and turtle dominate Snakehunter. Did you draw them from Native American mythology, with the turtle representing longevity and immortality and the snake representing rebirth? Is Speer a Snakehunter, seeking immortality through children yet unable to have children because of his undescended testicles?

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CK: I think the attributes you ascribe to these motifs are accurate and fair to say. As to origin, I was also introduced to the work of Carl Jung and I was very influenced by the idea of the collective unconsciousness, and dream symbolism. My interest in Jung led me to read The Golden Bough by Frazier where I cribbed most of the mythological allusions of Snakehunter. Is Speer a Snakehunter? I would say yes, you could call Speer a Snakehunter, but he was not successful until one night decades later on the New River Gorge Bridge. Boo!

DM: In Last Mountain Dancer, Ray Carver is mentioned as a close friend of yours—and as a “supposedly ex-boyfriend” of your wife’s. Did you and your wife meet through him?

CK: Ray and I met while both of us were at Stanford and quickly became close friends. I did meet Diane through Ray, details of which are in Honeymooners. After Diane and I married and moved to San Francisco, we hung out with Ray and Maryanne and were pretty much inseparable for the first few years of our marriage. But the truth of it was quite different. Ray’s marriage was collapsing under the weight of alcohol and bad debt and finally they parted ways though they did not divorce until many years later.

DM: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me and sharing these insights into your writing.

Comments

  1. Donna Leaseburg says:

    Glad to see how far and wide you are spreading your talents and helping others.

    Donna Leaseburg

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